As a young mother, I used to say, “I just pray that my children grow up to be good citizens, believe in the Lord Jesus, and be happy. I am very blessed because for the most part, all four of our children have met that criteria. However, as I have gotten older and wiser, I think I may have missed the mark in some respects. Happiness is very important, but there is something greater – And, that is to experience JOY!
About four years ago, our youngest daughter, Megan came to me on Thanksgiving night. She was crying. What is wrong, I asked her. And, she told me how depressed she was and while I listened to her, all I could think about was why? I couldn’t understand at the time. We had provided everything for her! She was in college, had an apartment, she had nice clothes, food to eat, a car to drive, and she knew that she was loved. It was more than I ever had at her age! I felt frustrated because I didn’t know what else I could possibly do!
Well, at the time, little did I know that she could join about 3.3 million other adults who suffer depression in the United States. And, that number continues to grow at an alarming rate. Not only is depression a real thing, but often leads to drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide.
Today is known as GAUDETE Sunday. In Latin, it means, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!” On this third Sunday of Advent, we light the pink candle on our advent wreath. This candle represents joy! Notice that the other candles are blue – but this candle is different. It stands out from the others and I believe because it just may be the most important of all.
However, how do we find joy? How in the world can we experience joy in our daily lives when there is so many things to be depressed about in these agonizing days of suffering, hatred, and oppression? How can we rejoice in the Lord when we are feel like the world is crumbling down around us?
In Luke 3:7-18, John the Baptist has been proclaiming all over the Jordan River to “Repent, the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” This Baptism of Repentance is gaining popularity. People are curious in knowing what he is talking about and the he crowds are growing.
But John sounds a little frustrated. He calls the people snakes! In the Bible “The Message,” the translator puts it this way, “What do you think you are doing slithering down her to the river. Do you really think a little water is going to keep God’s judgement from you? And, do really think just because you are child of Abraham that you are exempt from the wrath of God?”
These are not bad people. They are people just like you and me. They too are living in agonizing times. Rome is powerfully in charge. The poor are suffering, people are hungry, taxes are high, and many are living in fear. Just like us, they want the world to be a better place! They want life to be more than just going through the motions each day. They want the status quo of just existing to be different. And, so they ask the same question that you and I may be asking today: “What should we do? How do we experience this Baptism of Repentance? How do bear fruit that is worthy of Repentance?” In other words, “How do we experience JOY in this agonizing world that we live in?
John gives them a list:
- If you have two coats, give one away
- Tax Collectors – collect no more than prescribed
- Do not extort money from anyone – Be content with what you have.
For me, I question why do we need to be baptized to do these things? What is this baptism of Repentance? What is the point? Then John comes out with it. This is only water. Jesus is coming and He has something that will change you from the inside out. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and Fire! He will ignite a Kingdom Fire within you! Everything will be different within you! You will be changed! Your life will never be the same! You will experience joy!
Through this baptism, the focus is no longer on you! You will begin to see the world differently. You begin to realize that you are difference in the world. You are the one who changes the status quo because you can now see the needs of the community, the church and the world. This will become natural. It will become the new normal within you.
You are not just a child of Abraham. You become a Child of God! This will bring you great joy! This Joy is knowing that God is present! This Joy is knowing that God diverts evil. This Joy is knowing that through Jesus Christ, God cancels out judgement on us. This Joy is only found in the Life of one whose Life now belongs to Christ!
And, so you see, happiness can be found in the gifts we will receive on Christmas morning. But it will be only a fleeting feeling. We can have everything that could possibly make us happy, however, if we don’t have the joy that can only be experienced through Christ, we are missing out!
Over 3.3 million people in this country alone are missing out! I cannot help but to think, is there a correlation between depression and knowing Christ Jesus? Is it possible that while the number of depressed people is growing at an alarming rate, so also is the decreasing number of attendees in the church also growing at an alarming rate? Is it possible that the church family, fellowship, reaching out to others, loving one another, and the love of Christ is the difference in this world?
It wasn’t too long after that Thanksgiving, that our beautiful daughter, Megan, began to remember her baptism and to whom she belonged. God changed her focus to help other people and her life began to change. In all honesty, she has never been the same! Every Thanksgiving, she reminds me of that day she came to me so depressed. It was true. There was nothing else I could possibly do for her. It was the Spirit of God who began to work in her and through her that continues to bring joy to her life!
We have been baptized with the Holy Spirit and Fire! We have been saved! Not by anything that we have done, but what Christ has done in us and through us! So many people in our world think that they can make themselves happy! And, they can – temporarily. But it is only through the suffering that Jesus did for us on the Cross that will bring us Complete joy!
The implications of our repentance and baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire is God’s spirit that cleanses us, refines us, and makes us worthy and able to bear fruit of merciful justice, radical and sacrificial generosity, and vocational integrity! We can never be truly worthy for God to enter our lives on our own and the fruit we bear will never be enough for all that Jesus has done for us.
But God comes still. God prepares our hearts, forgiving us and cleansing our hearts. It is God who prepares the Table for us and welcomes us!
It is Gaudete Sunday! “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice!” The question, “How do we experience joy in this agonizing world that we live in? Only Through Jesus Christ, the one who is coming!
Megan Landers currently serves at Lutheran Chapel Church in Gastonia, North Carolina as a Family and Youth Director. For over two years, she has proclaimed Christ to children and young adults, growing the number of Youth in her congregation. On Sunday, December 16, 2018, her children performed a Christmas program. About 200 attendees participated in worship that day to “Rejoice in the Lord!”